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The Man Behind the Mill (December 01, 2003)


December 1, 2003
By Pulp & Paper Canada

In 2002, NorskeCanada’s Elk Falls Division celebrated 50 years of operation. The first roll of paper, which was destined for the Vancouver Sun, rolled off PM1 on June 10, 1952. Commenting on the histo…

In 2002, NorskeCanada’s Elk Falls Division celebrated 50 years of operation. The first roll of paper, which was destined for the Vancouver Sun, rolled off PM1 on June 10, 1952. Commenting on the history of the mill, then mayor of Campbell River, Jim Lornie spoke of the many generations of employees who have worked to build Elk Falls into the enterprise that was, adding that they “have contributed to building Campbell River into the vibrant community that we are proud to call home.”

The mill first opened its doors with 218 employees. Today the division employs 1,100 people, making it the largest employer in Campbell River. During the celebration, Norm Facey, vice president of operations, stated that “our employees, past and present, are to be congratulated for making this the sound business it has been.” Today, Facey still vividly recalls the pride of the retirees and their families as they attended the commemorative events and says, “More than one generation of many families worked here and the mill and the community are completely intertwined.”

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Costing $21 million when it went into production in 1952, Elk Falls was the first mill that was built in British Columbia in 35 years. It started as a single-line newsprint operation capable of running at a speed of 2000 fpm. Today the facility houses three newsprint machines, a market pulp machine, a containerboard machine and two pulping facilities. Elk Falls specialty papers are suited for catalogues and newspaper inserts. The facility also produces sawdust-based kraft pulp for manufacturers of products such as tissue, paper towel, wood-free printing and writing papers. The mill is also a producer of whitetop linerboard for packaging applications such as produce and beverage boxes, where high quality graphics and printability are required. The plant is proud of the fact that most of the citrus crop grown in California is shipped around the world in boxes that are made with Elk Falls containerboard.

Elk Falls is one of four mills that is owned and operated by NorskeCanada, which was formed in 2001 when Norske Skog Canada acquired Pacifica Papers. The four pulp and paper divisions are all located in south coastal British Columbia, within a 160 kilometre radius, at Campbell River (Elk Falls), Crofton, Port Alberni and Powell River. Together they represent North America’s third largest uncoated groundwood paper company, the world’s largest producer of directories and the largest paper company in western North America. NorskeCanada is a Canadian-owned and operated enterprise, and, with 3800 employees, it applauds the “great people who make things happen in the company”.

Norm Facey is one of the dynamic leaders that makes the daily operation of the division run smoothly. Having worked at various mills across the country from Powell River, BC, to St. John, NB, 48-year-old Facey admits that he always knew that he wanted to be a mill manager, especially in his home province of British Columbia. A native of Victoria, Facey recalled how his fascination with “building things” lead him to a mechanical engineering degree from the University of British Columbia. At Elk Falls, he has built a strong relationship with his colleagues both above and below him in the company hierarchy.

“His engaging personality and folksy appearance are just a part of his appeal,” Ron Buchhorn, vice president of human resources, commented. “His personal leadership and commitment is respected throughout the mill.”

Dale Cerny, the union president of CEP local 630, in referring to Facey, called him “a man of his word, who supports his people.”

In 2001, the employees, the union and the company as a whole embarked on a campaign to address the issue of safety in the mill operation. Over 150 individuals participated in a company-wide symposium to collectively find solutions and to set values to improve safety concerns. It worked! Norm Facey called the success of this endeavour one of the highlights of his career. “If we can address such a serious problem as safety together, we have a solid framework for tackling any other future issues that come along,” he said.

Community involvement is equally significant in Campbell River and the NorskeCanada Elk Falls Division regularly gets involved in the Cops for Cancer fundraiser in support of youngsters with cancer. One of the fundraising methods consists of having individuals shave their heads for pledges. Norm Facey, along with four of his co-workers, jumped at the chance to participate. Being the character that he is, Facey further offered “the honour of shaving his head to the person who had pledged the greatest amount of money”.

For an additional $1000, he also offered his beard in a separate pledge. “Imagine being able to give the mill manager a close shave,” he laughed. The Dare-to-be-Bare campaign left Facey hairless, but raised almost $25,000.

Facey’s ability to communicate is one of his strongest assets. He admits that he truly enjoys walking through the mill “since spontaneous conversation is what gives you a true sense of how the operation is functioning”. He is proud of the mill, the product it produces and most especially the people. His desire to “build things” has also not subsided. He is presently working on a sailboat that he plans to navigate to Tahiti. When he first started in the pulp and paper industry he was advised by a mentor that in this type of business you have to learn something new every day. Norm Facey does exactly that, and it is precisely this attitude which makes him stand out as a unique mill manager.

Mill People

In our quest to profile mill managers from across the nation who have had a significant impact on both their workplace and on the industry as a whole, we travel to vancouver island and stop at campbell river which is home to the elk falls division of norskecanada.

Norm facey, vice president of operations and mill manager, leads his team with a strong focus on communication. With his unique style, facey believes in acknowledging the successes that his team achieves. As the photo illustrates, he does this by donning his hawaiian shirt and lighting up the barbecue.

Elk Falls Production Capacity

Newsprint capacity: 365,000 tonnes Specialties capacity: 145,000 tonnes

Market Pulp capacity: 160,000 tonnes Containerboard capacity: 114,000 tonnes

The Early Years

1951Mill construction begins with the establishment of a warehouse, a repair shop and offices

1952Mill opens in June and has a production capacity of 320 tonnes a day

1953Elk Falls becomes a division of Crown Zellerbach Canada

1956Kraft pulp mill begins operation with the world’s first “noodle pulp” being produced

1957The number two paper machine is installed, a combination machine that allowed either newsprint or kraft paper to be made

1962$35 million dollar expansion

1964Elk Falls becomes the first mill in Canada to produce pulp from sawdust

1965Containboard machine installed

1976$50 million expansion and modification announced, with significant amounts allocated to improving air quality

Production at Norskecanada

Newsprint872,000 tonnes37%

Directory373,000 tonnes16%

Uncoated Groundwood377,000 tonnes16%

Lightweight Coated209,000 tonnes 9%

Kraft paper114,000 tonnes 5%

TOTAL PAPERS1.95 million tonnes

Market Pulp410,000 tonnes17%

TOTAL2.35 million tonnes

Your comments are welcomed at zsoltp@pulpandpapercanada.com


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